Sunday, March 9, 2008
Psychology 1504, or "Positive Psychology" is the most popular course on the Harvard campus. Twice a week, over 900 students attend Tal Ben-Shahar's class on what he calls "how to get happy." (He's a lecturer, not a professor. He took himself off the tenure track to reduce stress and make himself happier.)
Some of my colleagues were too busy to attend a recent industry gathering where Tal was invited to speak. So here are my notes. Which I hope make you happy.
1. Don't multi-task when doing pleasurable activities. Spending time at a concert? Turn off text messaging. Quality time with the kids? Don't catch up on emails. Combining two pleasurable activities takes the joy out doing them. Play your two favorite pieces of music together, and they turn into noise.
2. Exercise. The benefits of exercise aren't only physical. Exercise releases chemicals in the brain that actually make you happier. So not exercising is like taking depressants.
3. Have a job that is both enjoyable and meaningful. (Hmmmmmm) If this is not feasible (say, you need to earn actual money) build in happiness boosters throughout the week-- moments that give you both pleasure and meaning. For some people, it's volunteer work. For others, it's as simple as taking time out for a friend who needs advice and a beer.
4. Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on your state of mind, not on your status or the state of your bank account. Barring extreme circumstances, your level of well being is determined by what you choose to focus on (the bad stuff in your life, or the good) and by your interpretation of external events. (Is your being downsized a catastrophic event or a paid opportunity to find work at a place you'll be happier?)
5. Keep a notebook of things for which you are grateful. Take a minute before going to sleep each night to write down 3 things in your life you are glad for. For reasons no one knows, after a couple of weeks, this actually makes you a happier person.
6. Do the above regularly and you may find yourself the happy recipient of a special congratulatory gift from makethelogobigger.